Solvay Engineered Polymers has expanded into the thermoplastic vulcanizates market through an alliance with Thermoplastic Rubber Systems Inc. of Shirley, Mass.
Under the agreement, Auburn Hills, Mich.-based SEP has exclusive worldwide rights - excluding Asia - to distribute and market TRS' NexPrene-brand TPVs and other specialty thermoplastic elastomers to the automotive market.
TPVs have gained a growing number of automotive applications in recent years, with many TPV makers setting their sights on the weather-seal market.
SEP ranks as North America's largest maker of thermoplastic olefins - polypropylene-based compounds primarily sold into the automotive market. SEP operates 190 million pounds of combined TPO capacity in Mansfield and Grand Prairie, Texas.
``TPVs are an excellent fit for us,'' SEP sales and marketing Vice President Robert Gerlach said in a recent interview in Akron. ``They're similar to what we do in the automotive market.''
TRS TPVs currently are used in a variety of under-the-hood, chassis and suspension, and weather-seal parts on vehicles made by Ford Motor Co. and DaimlerChrysler AG. The firm also makes a line of styrenic block copolymers and SBC/ethylene propylene diene monomer blends.
Linking with SEP is expected to give TRS better access to the Big Three automakers.
``[SEP] has the critical mass to cover Detroit very well,'' said TRS President Jonas Angus, who founded the firm in 2000.
TRS currently operates two extrusion lines with a total of 20 million pounds of capacity in a 20,000-square-foot site. The firm employs 20 and expects to post sales of $4 million to $6 million this year.
The SEP deal includes an option under which SEP can buy TRS.
Gerlach said SEP opted to partner with TRS instead of launching its own TPV business because the TRS product line ``has already validated itself.''
``We're forgoing the time element by working with an existing firm,'' Gerlach said. ``TRS has accomplished a lot in the last two years.''
In weather seals, TPVs continue to battle with thermoset rubber for 25 pounds of material application on most vehicles. TPVs have less than 5 percent of the weather-seal market today, but are gaining ground through design flexibility and improved cycle times, according to SEP market development manager Jim Haseley.
A Big Three truck model also is being retooled midyear to accommodate TPV weather seals, Haseley added.